llinois State Rep. Dan Caulkins petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Illinois Supreme Court, which ruled 4-3 against him.

The U.S. Supreme Court is pictured on Nov. 3, 2023. An Illinois state representative has petitioned the nation's highest court to overrule a decision by his state's highest court that upheld the Protect Illinois Communities Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court is pictured on Nov. 3, 2023. An Illinois state representative has petitioned the nation's highest court to overrule a decision by his state's highest court that upheld the Protect Illinois Communities Act. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

SPRINGFIELD, IL — The state representative whose efforts to block the Protect Illinois Communities Act were rebuffed by the Illinois Supreme Court has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision to uphold the ban on certain semiautomatic weapons.

Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur), along with a local pawnbroker and an unincorporated association of Macon County gun owners, challenged the gun ban, which was enacted in January in response to the Highland Park parade shooting.

The law bans the possession, manufacture, or sale of a list of specific guns, those with various cosmetic features and magazines with more than 10 bullets for rifles or 15 bullets for pistols. It requires those who already own banned guns to register them by the end of the year to avoid criminal penalties.

In August, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the law on a 4-3 vote, with Justice Liz Rochford, a Lake Forest Democrat, penning the opinion of the majority that reversed a lower court judgement invalidating the gun ban. Mary O'Brien, the other Democrat elected to the state's highest court a year ago following judicial redistricting, wrote her own dissent, as did the two Republicans on the seven-member court.

In a 53-page petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, Caulkins challenges the state court ruling on various grounds, including due process, equal protection and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was not at issue in his state court challenge.

Caulkins' petition focuses on the Rochford and O'Brien's decisions not to recuse themselves from hearing the case, despite receiving significant campaign contributions from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of the defendants in the case. Pritzker gave Rochford and O'Brien $1 million each, with the cash split between his personal trust and his campaign fund due to the half-million limit on campaign contributions from a single contributor.

Pritzker previously described the notion that the justices should recuse themselves because of his campaign donations as "ridiculous."

Rochford and O'Brien said Caulkins' motion for the judges to recuse themselves failed to sufficiently allege a good enough reason for disqualification.

"[P]laintiffs have attempted to show bias based upon inference and supposition, to create the appearance of impropriety where none exists," Rochford said. "I have carefully considered plaintiffs’ motion, and for the reasons set forth above, I deny plaintiffs’ motion to recuse myself from this case."

According to Caulkins' petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the state supreme court justices failed to apply the precedent established in the 2009 case of Caperton v. Massey. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia after one of its justices accepted large sums of money from a coal company CEO while his case was working its way through the courts and then refused to recuse himself.

"Nothing could be more injurious to the judiciary than the perception that its independence is for sale. The perception that contributions unduly influence the Illinois Supreme Court is not without history," it said.

According to the petition, Rochford and O'Brien allowed backers of the assault weapons ban to say that they committed to uphold the ban, even though they did not publicly do so.

"In Illinois, the appearance is that occupants of the offices in each branch disregard the state constitution when its provisions are inconvenient to the political ends of the majority faction," it said. "The facts of this case illustrate the point aptly."

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the other defendants in Caulkins' state supreme court challenge will have an opportunity to present counterarguments in response to his petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Caulkins said he is being represented by local attorneys in a grassroots effort.

“There are thousands of cases filed with the U.S. Supreme Court every year, and they don't take very many of them," he told WCCU, "but we're very hopeful that we've made a good case."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, with the majority of a three-judge panel determining the state has the authority to ban weapons it considers excessively dangerous. That decision is also expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Related: Illinois Assault Weapons Ban Foes Promise Supreme Court Challenge

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